Wednesday, April 04, 2012

An Everlasting Meal

Lifetimes have flown by since I last wrote, including a trip to the Oregon coast complete with wet dogs, a terrible head cold, a bit of snow and a hailstorm or two.  Fortunately, there was also much fresh seafood, a fireplace and stunning ocean waves to gaze at through a 24/7 Nyquil haze...

...and many beautiful clouds, and miles of gorgeous coastline for dog romping.

Towards the end of the trip, I started to recover, and cracked a crab for the first time ever.  I didn't clean & cook it though;  that experience will have to wait for another time!

But we sure did enjoy combining the fresh crab meat with a little garlic, olive oil, parsley & white wine over pasta.  And then, inspired by my newest cookbook obsession, An Everlasting Meal, I simmered the crab shells in water with a little more white wine, garlic, celery & carrot, crushed red pepper & lemon peel, and the next day's meal was born:  a rustic soup with the crab broth, a few leftover noodles, and some toasted slices of baguette tossed right into the bowl to soak it all up.  It was not only delicious, but pretty cool to get another whole meal out of a bit of leftovers, crab shells and odd vegetable bits!

To say that Tamar Adler's book, An Everlasting Meal, has inspired me greatly is putting it mildly.  It's done more than that - it's floored me!  It's influenced me in a major way, and really changed not only the way I cook, but the way I think about cooking and food and eating.  It's not just a book with recipes, or a book about food.  It's a beautifully written collection of essays, filled with warmth and wit, and no end of suggestions about how to make the most out of the food you have.  The premise is that good food doesn't need to be complicated or fancy, it simply needs to be prepared with attention and care.

I've tried a small handful of the recipes and so far I have not been remotely disappointed.  In fact, I was thrilled  with the recipe for ribollita, which I've made twice now, and it actually tastes nearly as good as the amazing versions of this dish that I had in Italy.  I've tried on my own to replicate this dish a couple of times now but never felt I hit it just right until I tried Adler's version.  The key, at least in part, is in using copious amounts of olive oil, and bread that is perfectly stale.

One of the suggestions in the book is that you shop at the beginning of the week, roast your vegetables in batches, and then chop and slice and dice and puree them all week long to use in salads, soups, and side dishes, dressed with simple combinations like olive oil and fresh herbs, or italian salsa verde - a combination of fresh parsley, capers, anchovies and olive oil.  With a couple of hours' worth of work at the beginning of the week, you can have the basic building blocks for quite a few meals, the ends of which then become the beginnings of the next meal.  I love this concept, and for me it is a radical shift from how I usually tend to operate. I love to follow recipes, to find new recipes and new cookbooks. But I'm also loving the concept of making the best meal possible from whatever you have in your fridge and pantry.

Of course, this style of cooking isn't new - I'm quite sure this was exactly how my grandparents cooked!  But it's nice to be reminded of this.  I know this is a book I will be coming back to again and again, in fact I'm feeling pretty inspired to try every single recipe in the book, so expect more to come on this topic from me.  And in the meantime, if you love great writing and great food, you'd do well to get your very own copy.   Enjoy!